A Surprising Gift of Music

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Sonic Blossom at the Met is a sound art piece like no other


  • Sonic Blossom, a breathtaking sound art piece, performed at the Metropolitan Museum. Photo by Adel Gorgy

“May I offer you a gift?”

A beautiful young woman dressed in richly embroidered textiles, looking like she had just stepped out of a painting in one of the nearby galleries of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum, asked me this question.

Sonic Blossom is a remarkable sound art piece that was performed in various galleries in the museum during a brief period in recent weeks. It was conceived of and created by artist Lee Mingwei and addresses what is given and what is received in perceiving works of art. In this work, Lee Mingwei encouraged a group of talented music students to share a gift from their hearts, offering both love and song.

The performer approaches a visitor with this offer. Some shrug and walk away, others accept, and sit in a specially located chair across from a stand with two small speakers. A bit of music plays, and then the singer’s voice blossoms, filling the space and the senses with a Schubert lied, brilliantly performed.

The musician never loses eye contact. It’s a one-to-one experience that’s extraordinarily moving. I’ve experienced sound art pieces that were jarring and discomforting and others that were just perplexing. Most leave me unmoved. This was not like that. This was not like anything else. If I ever get to heaven, this is how I’d like to be welcomed.

Because we came as a family, we all huddled around the single chair as one person, sharing the experience, which made it more meaningful to me. Other than focusing on the exquisite sound of the young woman’s voice, I thought, “Pay attention. This will never happen again.” Part of the whole point of art. And life.

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